The Search for the Best Burger in Michigan

This summer, John “Gonzo” Gonzalez of MLive searched far and wide across the state for Michigan’s best burger. After six days of traveling 1,700 miles and visiting 33 restaurants, he found one thing for sure – Michigan is home to a number of great burgers! Read about John’s experience below and be sure to check out the list of Michigan’s best burgers for more.

I looked down at the end of the bar at Miller’s in Dearborn, where I saw a young man eating his second burger. “Man, you must love this place to eat TWO burgers!” I said. Still chewing, he held up his hand, flashing three fingers. “No,” I said. “I only saw TWO burgers in front of you.” He gulped down his bite and said, “I order two that I eat immediately, and then I order a third one,” he said. “Oh, I see, you order a third one to go?” “Oh no,” he said. “I’ll eat it here. I just don’t want it to get cold, that’s why I wait to order the third one.”

That’s the passion I discovered at every stop on our search for Michigan’s Best Burger 2013. Whether it was patrons, chefs, owners, managers or employees, there is a Michigan passion for a good, old fashioned burger with cheese and your favorite toppings.

We have done these searches before:

Michigan’s Best Coney Dog (American Coney in Detroit),
Best BBQ (West Texas BBQ in Jackson),
Best Ice Cream Parlor (MOO-ville Creamery in Nashville),
Best Haunted House (Erebus in Pontiac), and
Best Breakfast (Anna’s House in Grand Rapids).

But our search for Michigan’s Best Burger was by far our most extensive one. After a nomination process that involves our readers, we put up polls in all of our markets to determine the readers’ favorites. Once we have that list, I hit the road.

This time we traveled 1,700 miles, visited 33 restaurants and did it over a period of six days. We visited burger joints from Sault Ste. Marie to Detroit, Bay City to Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor to Muskegon. On some days we visited 7 restaurants in one day.

If any of you have followed our other searches, I often take along an expert or companion who helps me out. It’s not easy eating all this food. On our search for Michigan’s Best Coney Dog, I was joined by Joe Grimm (co-author of “Coney Detroit”). On BBQ, it was the president of the Great Lakes Barbecue Association, Mike Terry of Flushing. And for our breakfast search it was Mike Jensen, a retired prison cook from Saranac.

For burgers, we were joined by David Kutzko, a Western Michigan University professor of Classics (Greek and Latin) who has a huge appetite and spends a lot of time checking out Michigan restaurants. Also, we were joined by Fritz Klug, a statewide reporter for MLive and David’s former student whose intention was to tag along on our trip to the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan. But we couldn’t shake him.

What we discovered: Michigan residents love their burgers!

Most of the burgers on our Top 10 list were cooked on flattop grills and used a blend of 80 percent lean meat, and 20 percent fat. Many used a hand press. All of them are flipped only once.

Each place had a little different method; some used a secret seasoning, others used salt and pepper, and some used no seasoning at all.

The secret was in the meat, and the preparation method. We also took into account creativity, buns and those intangibles that make you want to order a second – or third – burger before you leave!

Here is our Top 10 List:

  1. Michigan burger map. Credit: Ed Riojas/Mlive.com

    Laura’s Little Burger Joint, 47141 M-51, Decatur

  2. West Pier Drive-In, 601 W. Portage Ave., Sault Ste. Marie
  3. Miller’s Bar, 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
  4. Talley’s Log Cabin Bar, 2981 County Road 612, Lewiston
  5. Stella’s Lounge, 53 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
  6. Brown Bear, 147 N. Michigan Ave., Shelby
  7. Schlenker’s Sandwich Shop, 1104 E. Ganson St., Jackson
  8. Torch Bar & Grill, 522 Buckham Alley, Flint
  9. Schuberg’s Bar & Grill, 109 N. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids
  10. Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger, 551 S Division St., Ann Arbor

Take a look at our complete list of 33 finalists; you won’t go wrong at any one of them.

Where’s your favorite place to get a burger in Pure Michigan? Share with us in the comments section below!

As the Statewide Entertainment writer for MLive Media Group, which represents eight newspapers throughout the state, as well as MLive.com and AnnArbor.com, John Gonzalez oversees the “Michigan’s Best” series. He has led statewide searches for Michigan’s Best BBQ, Ice Cream Parlor, Breakfast, Coney Dogs and most recently, Burgers. John is based in Grand Rapids, but has worked in Detroit, Lansing, Mt. Pleasant, Flint, Holland and Bay City.  He is originally from Capac, Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter at @MichiganGonzo. 

All Square: A History of Detroit-Style Pizza

We’ve found that if there’s one food Michiganders know and love, it’s pizza! And while the best pizzas in Michigan can be found all across the state, some may argue that “Detroit-style” pies top the charts. Today, guest blogger and pizza enthusiast Tony Sinicropi takes us on a historical tour through the pizza of Detroit.

Call it square. Call it deep dish. Call it whatever you want – just know that it is uniquely Detroit and definitely Pure Michigan.

Buddy’s “Detroiter” Pizza

Detroit-style pizza, a descendent of Sicilian-style pizza, traces its roots to one man – Gus Guerra. In 1946, Gus owned what was then a neighborhood bar, Buddy’s Rendezvous, when he decided he needed something new for the menu. He enlisted the help of his wife, Anna, who borrowed a dough recipe from her Sicilian mother. The Sicilian dough, topped with cheese and tomato sauce, would become the model for pizza in Detroit.

The key ingredient in a proper Detroit-style pizza isn’t something you eat – it’s the pan. The key characteristics of the pizza – the soft and airy square crust, the crunchy exterior, the caramelized cheese that edges the pizza – are all due to the deep pans in which the pizzas are baked. The pans are a thick steel pan that are more similar to a cast iron skillet than a cake pan. Legend has it that Gus got his initial batch of pans from a friend who worked in a factory that used the pans for spare parts. Detroiters have been fighting for corner slices ever since.

Armed with empty stomachs and a passion for good pizza, we embarked on a tour to trace the genealogy of Detroit-style pizza.

The Spirit of Detroit prefers his pizza square

Our first stop was Gus’ original restaurant – Buddy’s Rendezvous at 6-Mile and Conant. We went with the classic Detroiter – cheese, sauce, and pepperoni on top so that it crisps up and chars slightly. The sauce is what sets Buddy’s pizzas apart – the bright tomato sauce and hit of herbs act as the perfect complement to the salty pepperoni. With the bocce ball courts outside and a bar area lined with pictures of Tigers legends, Buddy’s is a landmark worthy of its reputation.

Next on our itinerary was Cloverleaf Bar & Restaurant in Eastpointe, founded by Gus & Anna after they sold Buddy’s Rendezvous in 1953. Cloverleaf claims to carry on the original recipe that Gus developed at Buddy’s. The extra crispy edges on this pie received high praise from the group.

Our next stop on the lineage tour was Loui’s in Hazel Park – founded by a long-time chef at Buddy’s, Louis Tourtois, which explains the similarity between the pizzas at each location. Similar to Buddy’s, Loui’s is frozen in time with its checkered tablecloths and hundreds of empty Chianti bottles that hang from the ceiling.

Finally, we made it to the new kid on the block, Detroit Style Pizza Company in St. Clair Shores, run by Gus Guerra mentee Shawn Randazzo. After owning and operating a Cloverleaf location with his mother for 16 years, Shawn decided to branch out and put his own spin on the square pie and opened Detroit Style Pizza Company earlier this year. Shawn was recently crowned as the World Champion Pizza Maker of the Year at the 2012 International Pizza Challenge. After trying his “Margherita in the D” pizza, I can see why. The sauce made of crushed tomatoes and topped with fresh basil, roasted garlic, and red onion provided a nice change of pace from the more traditional places.

The great thing about visiting these places is that you can’t go wrong with any of them. Next time you are in the Detroit area, be sure to stop in and grab a slice of pizza history.

A born and raised Michigander, Tony runs the blog Great Lakes, Better Food, which chronicles his food adventures from all over the state. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and their dog, Lucy, who are both eager to accompany him on his adventures.

Michigan’s Local Fare in Restaurants with Style

Join Dine Michigan on a tour of some of the best restaurants in Michigan serving local fare. From a fine dining experience, to a diner specializing in gourmet breakfasts, Dine Michigan has you covered.

As fall nears it is time to enjoy Pure Michigan dining at its purest. Dine Michigan has reviewed several restaurants that go above and beyond when it comes to using Michigan’s natural ingredients. These restaurants are known to change the menu as little as every few days to keep with the locally grown fare. So get out and find Michigan grown produce while the season lasts.

By Land or Sea in Coldwater

Photo By Dine Michigan

The Boathouse - Michigan Fine Dining

Fine dining – start on the lake, Coldwater Lake to be exact. Pull up to The Boathouse Restaurant in your boat or in your car and head chef, Chris Nixon and staff will be ready to feed you like you’ve not been fed before. The proof is in its clientele. The Boathouse gets regular visits from Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago and beyond. Why do people travel to dine here?  Maybe it’s the fact that the staff has traveled from restaurants in New York City and even farther, not just to bring their culinary expertise back to Michigan, but also so they would have the opportunity to cook with some of the purest ingredients grown right here in Michigan, naturally.

Start with an appetizer like the locally grown squash blossoms for an amazing taste sensation. For your salad, the Arugala salad with parmesan direct from Italy and 6 different forms of lemon, from juice to lemon confit, is sure to awaken your palate. Head to the main course where you can’t go wrong with any choice, but we recommend the beef. The 45 day aged beef is sous vide and then pan seared, and one of the best pieces of meat you will ever eat. Finish your meal off with the North 40 Blueberry Shortcake. Yes, with blueberries grown locally! There are many surprises in store that you NEED to experience. If you are a vegetarian, expect a visit from the chef. He will want to prepare a meal to your liking and will make sure it is just that. If you want something really special, call ahead and ask for it. Chef Chris will do his best to get and prepare your heart’s desire to perfection.

Grand Rapids Done Locally

Photo By Dine Michigan

Reserve - Michigan Fine Dining

We had the opportunity to enjoy a casual experience at Reserve in Grand Rapids. If you love wine then this place is an absolute must. For Dine Michigan, the over 100 wines on tap and more than 200 bottled wines were fantastic but the detail to Michigan’s and other naturally grown foods was out of this world. Right here in Grand Rapids, Reserve is blessed to have the art of Chef Matt Millar and his amazing culinary knowledge. From the Charcuterie to the Chocolate Rillete, your taste buds will want more, and much of it is locally grown and stored just for Reserve.

The dessert is to die for, and you must save room for it. It’s so delicious, that we are going to start telling you about the meal from end to beginning! Dessert at its best starts with the Chocolate Rillete, which is a creamy hazelnut spread, topped with a Saskatoon jam. Saskatoon berries are by the way, Michigan’s ONLY native berry. The Rillete is served with a bourbon pound cake, which by itself is delicious. For the main course, it’s time to stop ducking the duck. Try it, that’s all we have to say, as it is amazing. The ducks are from a farm where they are grown free range. So you need an appetizer? Try the Charcuterie; you will love the wide array of sliced meats and cheeses to enjoy with a great glass or bottle of wine. There are many appetizers which are all fantastic, but we are stuck on one unusual item, Chef Matt’s amazing Eggs and Eggs!

A Lansing Breakfast Party

Photo By Dine Michigan

Dine Michigan is offering a free meal to the first person to get a clear picture of Chef Zane's face at work!

Now let’s go get one of the absolute best breakfasts in the state of Michigan. You are headed to a little diner that only serves breakfast on Lansing’s north side called Golden Harvest. Golden Harvest uses an amazing array of fresh produce to produce a breakfast we promise you will remember!  The menu has many great items for adults and kids alike. The kids pancake made like a jolly roger is fun, filling and fantastic. As for adults, skip the menu and look to the specials board. Everything comes large, filling and super tasty, but the specials are truly special. The cook is a surprise. You would expect this little place to have just a standard cook, but not here. At Golden Harvest you are getting a true chef who will turn breakfast into an all day meal for you. Zane, chef and owner, does breakfast specials by starting with the best local in-season ingredients you can get. The prices will not reflect that though. Zane and his wife Vanessa keep prices down and concentrate on using local ingredients and serving great food. If you are in a hurry, be sure to slow down, you may need to wait a few minutes. If there are two of you and you sit at a table of four, plan to share a table with new friends!

Michigan Fine Dining

From a restaurant on the lake serving squash blossoms with flare to a serious breakfast party, these Pure Michigan restaurants will keep you coming back to Michigan for food you will remember, made with pride using local and natural ingredients grown in Michigan!

By Dave Coker of Dine Michigan

Go to www.dinemichigan.com to find more on these restaurants and many more.